Nasa’s Perseverance Rover to make daring landing on Mars this evening
Image credit: nasa
Nasa’s Perseverance Rover is due to land on Mars later today after a gruelling seven-month, 293-million-mile, journey.
Blasting off in July last year with a mission to search for signs of former alien life, the car-sized robotic spacecraft will make a daring entry into the Martian atmosphere in what Nasa has dubbed “seven minutes of terror”.
It will touch down inside a basin called Jezero Crater which is the site of a long-vanished Martian lake bed that could harbour signs of former alien microorganisms.
The mission has been backed by the UK Government and will see samples being collected using Perseverance’s drill for future return to Earth in another mission expected to take place in the 2030s.
The researchers, including several from Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum, are supported by more than £400,000 in funds from the UK Space Agency (UKSA).
Engineers hope to confirm the landing, and possibly receive a first surface image, shortly after touchdown, set for 20:55 GMT this evening, from signals relayed to Earth by one of several Mars orbiters.
While there is a chance that the landing will fail, Nasa has conducted eight successful Mars landings in the past, alongside one unsuccessful one in 1999.
Perseverance, which is larger and more sophisticated than any of the four mobile science vehicles Nasa landed on Mars before it, appears “comfortably” on track for a “bull’s- eye” landing under fair Martian skies, said Al Chen, who works at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“That’s pretty incredible considering our last manoeuvre was back in December,” he said.
Nasa engineers sent the spacecraft a command days ago activating its autopilot systems for the final phase of its flight, and Chen anticipates no need for further course correction from mission control.
The spacecraft is expected to pierce Mars’ atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour and angled to produce slight aerodynamic lift while jet thrusters adjust its trajectory.
A supersonic parachute inflation will further slow the descent before giving way to deployment of a jet-powered “sky crane” vehicle that will fly to a safe landing spot, lower the rover on tethers, then zip off to crash a safe distance away.
Sue Horne, head of space exploration at the UKSA, said: “It is great to see a strong representation of UK scientists and engineers involved in the Perseverance mission.
“Over the next few years, our scientists will play a leading role in this international endeavour, from managing logistical operations to deciding which samples are to be returned to Earth.
“Perseverance will bring us one step closer to answering the question that’s been on the lips of Bowie fans and scientists for the last 40 years.”
Perseverance isn’t the only mission to Mars currently under way; the UAE’s Hope probe successfully entered orbit earlier this month while China has its own rover which is scheduled to land on the Red Planet in May or June.
UPDATE: The Perseverance made it to Mars intact, below is the first picture of the surface as received by Nasa.
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